Best places to elope
Forget guest-list politics and seating-plan riddles – you’re getting married, not pursuing a career in event planning. If you choose to forgo the crowds for something more intimate, great-aunt Marge will just have to deal with it.
Skip big-wedding stress and run away to one of these exotic, quirky or just plain idyllic destinations for a fuss-free private wedding.
Sierra Nevada, USA
Last-minute Las Vegas elopements are legendary for a reason – you don’t have to do much more than ask nicely for a marriage licence in Nevada. But if you’re not the type to opt for a drive-thru wedding in an Elvis costume at The Little White Wedding Chapel, head upstate. The ski resorts and public parks perched over crystal-clear Lake Tahoe, near Reno, mean scenic views are standard with any marriage ceremony. Emerald Bay, sheltered from the wind by enclosing mountains, is one of the most picturesque locations.
What you may have to fork out in flights to reach Fiji, you’ll recoup in fantastic all-inclusive elopement package deals at resorts across its 300-odd islands. As the wedding capital of the South Pacific, Fiji spoils couples for choice with its abundance of venues, from simple seaside setups and lush junglescapes to exclusive private island hideaways such as Turtle Island, where scenes from The Blue Lagoon were filmed, Likuliku Lagoon Resort with its over-water bungalows, and Matangi Private Island Resort, where you can opt for an all-inclusive wedding for less than US$1000 (plus 20% tax) before retiring to your luxury treehouse.
There are ultimate castaway islands. And then there are the Seychelles. The talcum powder white beaches and lush, jungled hills of this Indian Ocean paradise drip with romance, and while only residents can get hitched next door in the Maldives, couples need only check into their Seychelles hotel two days prior to tying the knot here (and take their birth certificates). Most hotels offer a variety of wedding packages; some of the most romantic retreats include the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles on the main island of Mahé, Enchanted Island Resort on nearby Round Island, Constance Lémuria Resort on Praslin, and the more far-flung private islands Frégate, North, Denis and Desroches. Just bring your own biodegradable confetti – the Seychelles take sustainability seriously.
For spiritual seekers looking to make a symbolic commitment to one another rather than a union bound by religion (or law, for that matter), Peru may be just the place. Here, couples can opt for a traditional ‘Arac Masin’, or Andean wedding, among stunning sacred Inca sites such as the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. Officiated by an Andean priest – who conducts the ceremony in the native Quechua language – the simple but deeply spiritual ritual is designed to invoke the Inca gods to make your love last through eternity. To make it legal, however, you’ll have to complete civil marriage proceedings in Peru, or back at home upon your return.
Masai Mara, Kenya
The romanticism of escaping to Africa to get hitched is undeniable, but how on earth would you do it? Trust Richard Branson to come up with an answer. While the mogul’s luxury South African safari camp Ulusaba is perfectly set up for larger weddings (such as his son Tom’s in 2013), Branson’s newest camp in Kenya, Mahali Mzuri, specialises in luxe private nuptials. Simply leave it up to the wedding planner to arrange all the legalities of an achingly romantic ceremony for two (and perhaps the odd giraffe) in the northern reaches of Kenya’s famous Masai Mara, before enjoying a private dinner under the stars.
While it may sound more exotic to elope to Costa Rica or Nicaragua, there is still nowhere easier to have a Latin quickie (wedding, that is) than the equally romantic shores of Mexico. While plenty of resorts are set up for all-inclusive wedding bashes, smaller boutique hotels on the postcard-perfect (both with wedding planners available to take care of the necessary documentation), lend themselves to a more intimate ceremony. With pristine beaches, the famous Mayan ruins of Tulum, and exquisite turquoise cenotes (sinkholes) all within easy reach, you’ll be spoiled for photo opportunities here too.
While the bureaucracy of marrying legally in most European countries renders a quickie wedding next to impossible, you only need proof of identification, proof of entering the country legally (and proof of a previous divorce, if applicable) to wed in Denmark. With its sleepy historical villages, gentle, rolling farmland and beautiful sea views providing the perfect backdrop for weddings, the Danish Baltic Sea isle of Ærø is among the most scenic – and popular – eloping destinations. With a wedding industry worth an estimated Dkr7 million, Ærø is part of a region sometimes called ‘Europe’s Las Vegas’ for its quick marriages.
Gretna Green, UK
When Parliament tightened marriage arrangements in the middle of the 18th century, requiring couples to reach the age of 21 before they could wed without parental consent, the southern Scottish village of Gretna Green became a haven for thousands of English couples running away to marry in secret. With Scotland allowing on-the-spot marriage via a simple ‘handfasting’ ceremony until 1940, English lovers could duck across the border and literally tie the knot before an irate father of the bride arrived on the scene. Almost 300 years on, the romance of pretty Gretna endures, with a reported 1500 couples married in the town’s famous Blacksmith’s Shop every year.
Getting hitched legally in most Asian countries can be a headache for foreigners. It’s somewhat easier in Bali, but easier still to complete the formalities at home and come here for a romantic traditional blessing ceremony based on Hindu-Balinese customs. The verdant tropical surroundings of Ubud, in central Bali, offer an intimate alternative to the island’s crowded beaches, with competitive packages at a handful of luxurious properties. Wed in an orchid garden backed by emerald rice paddies at the Alila Ubud, for example, then pop down to its brand new Seminyak sister resort for your honeymoon.
Eloping just about anywhere in the Caribbean is bound to be magical. But when it comes to scenery, it’s hard to beat saying ‘I do’ in the shadow of St Lucia’s majestic Pitons. With no residency period, you can simply turn up and do the deed as long as you’ve applied for a marriage licence at least two days prior. Luxury sister resorts Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain offer a fantastic list of locations (including underwater!) while the stylish Cap Maison will marry you on a yacht.